Chris Martin

Chris Martin

This is our third installment in our series on triathlon training.  Enjoy….

Subtitle: “What do you do when things go wrong?”

This week, I want to talk about the bad “X” – the bad workout, the bad meal, the bad day, the bad week. In any endeavor that spans significant time, things are going to go wrong. You need to have a plan!

For me, my third week was BAD. I missed my long run Sunday, then didn’t make it to the pool at all – not once. Work issues, family issues, holiday issues. Lots of issues – I should get a subscription! – and only I managed two good things: a 6 mile run on Friday, and the CORE Bootcamp on Saturday. I missed two swim workouts, and three running workouts. Basically, I lost a week of training. That can be VERY depressing! The temptation is to allow that frustration, that sense of failure, to infuse everything else in the week – to stop eating healthily, to slip off the sleeping schedule, to get grumpy and basically unpleasant. In the past I have done all of those things – and guess what? It doesn’t make it any better. In the moment, you KNOW that it doesn’t make it any better, but that doesn’t make it easy to resist that third second slice of pizza.

This is why it is so important to have a plan. There is a great saying – “failing to plan is planning to fail.” I’m still in the planning phase of my training – something else that was supposed to get done last week! – but because I have been down the road a few times, I have a sense of what I need to be doing. That has allowed me to muddle through the first couple of weeks of training. Step one, get back in the pool, step two, keep up the run mileage (step three: Profit!). Of course, having just a “sense” of what is needed is not good enough! To be successful, I believe you need to put your plan on paper. Or use a planning tool – there are so many good free ones online now! For me, if I haven’t written it down, committed it to some form of documentation, then it is all too easy to let things slide. When you have a plan, you can see how your future plans are being affected by your current problems. No matter how bad the “X” is, having a plan allows you to DO something about the future, proactively.

What kind of things can you do? Well, when the X is small – a missed workout, a bad meal – it isn’t hard to make it up. Getting an extra run in one day, or having salad for lunch and dinner instead of just for lunch. When X is bigger – a bad week, a bad injury – you have to make bigger adjustments. Maybe you aren’t going to be able to go full out on your “B” race, or maybe you need to step the distance down on your planned long run, and re-calibrate your entire schedule, or adjust your expectations for performance on race day. The sooner you know about a problem, the sooner you acknowledge you have a problem, the sooner you can alter your plan to ensure that you maximize the possible future results. Very few things are worse, on race day – emotionally and physically – than having lied to yourself about your fitness. If you can go sub-11 hours, and you go 11h08, that’s acceptable. If you believe you can go sub-11 hours, and you “crack” (break down physically or mentally) and go 14h30, that is no fun. But if you had known that you were only in shape to go 12h30, and raced accordingly, you can feel good about the 12h15 that you bring in. Look at it another way – in any race, it’s the last ¼ that tells the tale. You can’t slow down by a lot in the last 25m of a 100-meter dash. If you aren’t in shape, by the time you get to mile 15 of the marathon, you are going to know! Lots of training manuals and anecdotes from professional triathletes say that the race doesn’t even BEGIN until mile 15 of the marathon!

When you are going long – and I’ll be going 140.6 miles! – you need to have the mental flexibility to deal with a bad stretch. Nine months from now, I will toe the line at IM Maryland, and when I do, my performance on that day is going to be dictated, in some small but significant way, by the choices I make today. I can choose not to swim, because getting up an extra 90 minutes early is going to wreck my day – and those 2500 meters are not going to make a huge difference. But if I make that decision EVERY day, for MONTHS, then I am no way no how going to swim 2.4 miles in 59 minutes (Goal – break 1 hour on the swim!). I have to be in the pool regularly, work with someone on improving my technique early in the season, and make the investment in time in order to get the payoff of 10 to 15 minutes. And I have to do that despite having a bad week! This is about damage control, and all about minimizing the loss caused by things beyond your ability to anticipate. There will be bad Xs – but a positive mental attitude, and a plan that has the flexibility to handle the occasional setback, will get you through to your best performance.

Next week, I want to talk about my plan, how I created it, and what kinds of considerations I will make along the way to ensure that the plan is working. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

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