When I first started with triathlon my primary goal was making the distance, not to “race it”. I talk to my athletes about being able to see the finish instead of swarming yourself with the “how can i complete the swim” mentality. This is very normal with newer athletes because each discipline is daunting and no matter what i say, they simply have to experience the race and distance to feel more confident. Especially for people making the jump to the longer distances. When I did my first Ironman in 2010, even though I had already qualified for multiple 70.3 world championships the distance of the Ironman intimated me to where many of my swims, bikes, and runs were all at or above my desired race pace. I did this to prove to myself that I could accomplish the distance. I was literally searching for confidence every weekend!
When I trained like this I would determine the outcome of my season through EVERY SINGLE session months in advance of my Ironman. If the session went well I was confident. If my session sucked, I was instantly regretting everything i’ve done and rethinking a new plan. So dramatic! If i was ever hurt I was already on WebMD diagnosing I had a stress fracture. I was an emotional roller coaster!
I’ve heard this phrase “endurance training is alot of general conditioning with a tad of specificity” and I really enjoy it because its how I coach and how i view my own training from a physical and emotional stand point. I never get too emotionally high or too low. If you are too far on the specificity side than you are dialed in too often and that creates injury, burn out, and emotional swings. This isn’t healthy. YES, you should compare and track your sessions but not every week. I find that people go full specificity mode when training starts to get feel good. They get motivated, they’re seeing improvement, then they blast it all of the time, every session! Then they quickly find themselves tired, exhausted, and needing a break. They forgot what type of training got them to this great shape. Think about it…
What training in a more general sense brings is greater enjoyment, more fluctuation of training intensity, longevity with athletes, and fewer burnout. Training in a general sense allows you to just go out and ride! No structured intervals, just ride! This is why in key long rides I commonly split sessions between specificity focus versus kilojoule focus. When its specificity focus it may be something like, 3x30’ @ IM/70.3 Power and when its KJ focus it may be, “get your KJ budget in however you want” and many times people enjoy this approach because you can either go short and hard or long and easy. General training does NOT mean training with no plan, structure and make it up as you go. That’s just an excuse to be lazy. Don’t switch your focus every month off of what you read or whats being spewed by the Youtube experts. Being general means have greater long term approach and higher fluctuation in the intensity you’re training at. Find a coach who doesn’t flip flop like a pancake. The ones that hold steady but are flexible to your situation are the best coaches.
Also, with a more general approach you don’t experience as much fatigue build up from all of the long hard demanding sessions. These are the “look at me sessions” you do to look good on social media. I was as guilty as anyone for doing these sessions. I remember doing a session that was 100 miles at IM watts followed by 13 miles running at desired IM run pace (6:45s). You know where that got me? On the couch for a week. The big sessions don’t create the fitness, the weekly consistency does. Those sessions may feed the lack of confidence, but they increase the physical, emotional, and hormonal damage. Also, these sessions create the greatest fatigue which is the reason athletes underperform on race day. Too many hard long training days, too frequent, too close to the race. You enter the race so deeply fatigue you have nothing on race day. Commonly you see people firing on all cylinders during this phase but miss time the stress dosage and show on race day mentally and physically fried wondering why they couldn’t reproduce the magic on race day. I get it though, you’re fit and ready and want to show it… but don’t show it every weekend in training, save a little. The big training days are OK, just not every week.
Now that I no longer have the fear of completing the distance, I’m more cautious during training intervals and my pacing. That doesn’t mean I don’t train hard, I certainly do at times. It just means I don’t go above my prescribed ranges to prove anything. I also go way easier on my easy and endurance training sessions. This approach seems to work as I never get down after a bad session, I don’t take it personally, I just role with the training to build consistency. When you finally get over the “make every session count” mentality, you open up a sense of relaxation and freedom.
My take aways:
Not every long ride is a chance to prove yourself
Going slightly easier will help you in the long run
If you are always going hard, you really aren’t training hard enough
Have a beer, wine, cheeseburger every once in awhile.