I think you will find interesting a current situation I am working through with one of the triathletes I coach. He is having a crisis in confidence about his run preparedness for Ironman Coeur d'Alene coming up in June. This athlete has been at the triathlon game for a while, but--like so many of you--has experienced repetitive cycles of running injury. Before we started working together, he had not been able to run with any consistency--or at all--for a year.
His current injury cycle came on the heels of his last round of Ironman training two years ago. He trained for that race with a mass coaching program that strongly stresses the "train more" philosophy with punishing levels of intensity day in and day out, week in and week out. And while this program touts it is "the way" to train for faster race times, in the end it robbed this athlete (and many others) of ANY ability to train or race at all.
As a long-time and experienced coach, I know one thing for sure--the "just train more" message is very seductive to triathletes. In a very real way, the mindset of "just train more" or "no pain, no gain" pervades much of our sport, and is almost like a drug. Many of us joke about it, but the fact is it seems to tap into a primal need to test ourselves and prove we can handle pain and not wilt under pressure. Once we drink that Kool Aid, it's hard to turn back. Many don't know any other way once exposed to it, and are often led further down the path by coaches who flat out don't know what they are doing. The bottom line is, my triathlete's concerns about run preparedness come from old, worn out training tapes replaying in his head. He has been duped into believing that you need to do week upon grueling week of long, hard running in order to be "ready" to run a marathon off of the bike.
That's simply not true. Not on any level.
Here's what is true--and this is where athletes find the place of phenomenal power, authentic fulfillment, and, yes, truly outstanding race day results.
IF you are functionally strong, TRULY healthy, and are building run and overall fitness steadily throughout training, that creates the conditions for an outstanding race. Then you must SHOW UP on race day, be TRULY healthy and rested, race smart, and be mentally ready to go after it. Put the two pieces together and it is then that you have the best opportunity for a GREAT race, especially off the bike--which is where it matters the most. Sounds too simple, and not "hard enough"?
Any coach can react to an athlete's nervousness and write an overly aggressive run "build" phase. I always tell my athletes the easiest thing I can do is write harder plans. After all, I only have to type! Many knucklehead coaches, however, take pride in making stuff "hard" because their own egos are their biggest concern, not the athlete's health and well being. As a responsible and experienced coach, I know that when an athlete returns to running after injury, the first few weeks absolutely DRIVE what happens, good or bad, with all the run training to follow for this race, this season--and beyond!
For example, if my triathlete is running slightly beyond his true functional capability due to an aggressive build designed to "get him there," odds are he will fall back into old dysfunctional and compensated movement patterns. Remember, it is those same patterns that created injury in the first place. Also, he will be building TIREDNESS, instead of true run FITNESS. That means as he gets closer to the race, he will be thinking and believing he's ready to race, when, in truth, he has been moving backwards on a number of levels--not the least of which is inching closer to re-injury.
I can guarantee that if my triathlete is FULLY PRESENT on race day with strong mental fortitude and toughness, AND a completely healthy, rested and ready body, he will surprise the heck out of himself with a run to be proud of--and a run that reflects his true potential. And the beauty is, this Ironman will be the start--NOT the end--of a training period. By ensuring true run health, athletes find a deep well of resiliency they never thought they had. They are able to dig deeper and find a resolve they always thought had to come through "force," and a "train-more-and-suck-it-up" philosophy. Truly healthy athletes RECOVER, and come back to train and race year after year. Instead of beating the body to a pulp, Ironman becomes the beginning of a long period of steady improvement in strength, durability, and speed.
Most importantly, finishing this Ironman healthily and well will allow my triathlete to MANIFEST the power of the accomplishment in his everyday life, not simply adopt a persona. His personal reasons for undertaking the challenge will be with him with every breath he takes after the race. It's what Mark Allen referred to as a "raw reality." My triathlete will be authentically healthy, authentically athletic, authentically positive. He will be an IRONMAN, in the truest sense of what finishing the distance is supposed to mean. He will live it, and in his own mind, he will know he did it right.
I wish this same sense of peace, accomplishment, and good health for every single triathlete I coach. It is the place where true fulfillment and satisfaction are born. Believe it, and make the decision to BE IT.