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The power within

9 February 2010 7 Comments

I’ve always told the guys in the squad to look after one square meter and one minute at a time. It’s such a hard skill to learn. When you go to work on Monday after racing on the weekend. The guys at work ask, “did you win?” After a lengthy, painful explanation about how age group triathlon is not so much about winning as it is improving times, being healthy and staying fit. They just don’t get it.

When your football team plays, all you think about is winning. That’s all the journalists talk about, how many wins, how many losses a team has had in the season. The worst thing the players can do is go out thinking about the end result. Football coaches emphasize the importance of sticking to the plan. Working the basics, sticking to the set plays. It’s the basic, no frills type of football which puts the flamboyant stars into positions from where they can work their magic.

It’s a lot like that in the longer triathlons. When you’re half way through a long and boring bike leg, in strong winds, grinding your way home, it really doesn’t matter if you have the latest GPS, or the latest “drinking system” fitted to your bike. It comes down to basic toughness. Confidence in your own ability. The ability to apply pressure to those pedals evenly, over and over, and over again, without ever losing sight of “the job at hand”. Never wasting any energy thinking about the final outcome, just getting the basics right.

The ability to concentrate on the job, seems to be the most valuable  skill  an athlete can develop. But how many do any training directly aimed at developing this skill? We all spend hundreds of hours training our body to develop the skills involved in swimming. The catch, the push, the recovery and the entry, we can do them in our sleep. But when a coach asks the squad to swim a two thousand meter continuous effort, the moans that come from the squad would make you think they’d been asked to do something hard. For a lot of those athletes, concentrating for  30 or 40min is the hardest thing they could imagine. What’s going to happen when they have to swim 3.8km in a race?

I have noticed the same weakness show up when I suggest that we do a 120km bike time trial. All of a sudden the squad is reduced to the “hard men”. A whole lot of excuses/reasons  show up why some people can’t be there. Coaches don’t put these things into training programs to punish people.   We’re not into punishing, we’re into identifying weaknesses and correcting them. Learning to concentrate, is correcting one of the most common weaknesses in triathlon. Long time trials are great for this. 

It’s funny, but the type of training you like the least is usually the type of stuff you need most. To move ahead, to get what you want out of this sport, you have to trust your coach. Keep in mind, if you’re successful, you make him/her look good. You should both be working in the same direction. The moment you start to doubt whether or not you’re on the right path, you’re lost. It’s over. 

The same thing happens in really tough conditions. As soon as you “lose it”, that’s the belief that you can be successful, unless you can “get it back”, it’s game over. Losing focus is not something limited to a few age group triathletes. People in all walks of life do it all the time. Giving up on something when you’re half way there is so common. It’s almost an epidemic.

The most important assett the successful athletes have. Is the ability to “Get it back, when they lose it”. The guys and girls who we all see out at the front of the field, the ones standing on the podium at the presentations, are humans just like you and I. They have times when they doubt themselves. Of course they do. They’ve developed the ability to “get it back” in seconds. They may “lose it” many times in a long hard race. But they have a strategy in place where they recognise what’s happening and they’re able to switch it back on. That’s the skill which each of us needs to develop in order to race to our potential.

The first step is recognition of what’s happening. Be aware of self doubt, it sneaks up on you.

The next step is change what you’re doing. Often going harder is a perfect antidote to self doubt. What have you got to lose? If you keep plowing along convinced that it’s “just not your day”, you’re going to have a bad result anyway. Why not go out in a blaze of glory. Just say to yourself “This is crap, this isn’t me, I’m better than this”. Then go harder for 30 to 40 seconds. Very often, you suprise yourself with what you’ve got left in the tank.

Be aware of what your thoughts were just before you started losing it. So often those thoughts are about other’s performances. Often thoughts of race outcomes will bring on a “losing it episode”. Try the 30-40 second test, then bring your thoughts back to the process, “the job at hand”. All of a sudden, you’re back in the race.


  • Jeff Collier said:

    Totally agree Alan as I call it racing with action and not concerntrating on the end gain/finish line.As athletes if we can simply concerntrate on the actions of our body and not get absorbed in what others are doing we will experience the goal that we are trying to achieve.

  • Andrew McMahon said:

    AP – thought provoking stuff – thanks. Although I am just at the beginning, this rings so true – how often in training do we find ourselves lethargic, just not in the groove, or our head is still at work or delving into our love lives! Well I do – but I have surprised my self recently by just pushing through, just a bit, and then a bit more, and then next minute I am 1hr later and still riding – some days it works, others it doesn’t. A great saying from Janine Shepherd that I use as a mantra some days is “Inch by Inch its a Sinch!!

  • Julia said:

    “To move ahead, to get what you want out of this sport, you have to trust your coach. Keep in mind, if you’re successful, you make him/her look good. You should both be working in the same direction. The moment you start to doubt whether or not you’re on the right path, you’re lost. It’s over. ”

    Thanks for reminding me of that. I definitely do trust my coach. But sometimes doubt creeps in when I hear of others who are doing different training. I got to stop doing that and focus on the TRAINING that MY COACH has set ME. Everyone has different goals and everyone is at a different place in their development as an athlete. I’m doing IM NZ in less than 4 weeks. Now is not the time to start panicking and doubting my preparation and what I have or havne’t done. It’s my first Ironman and a) I’m not allowed to have a time goal (other than to finish in the 17:00) and b) I want to ENJOY the experience because c) I am 99% sure I will want to do more after the first one.

    Love your work Allan. It’s really helping me grow, mentally, as an ironman. Thanks

  • AP said:

    Just stay in the moment, have a plan for food and drink, just be patient. Treat it like a long day at work. If you had to load 300 logs onto a big truck, you’d pace yourself, you wouldn’t throw the first 20 logs on real fast and then slow down. You’d probably aim to be the same pace at the start as you’d be at the end. It is a long time trial.

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