Seven Habits of Highly Effective Triathletes (with apologies to Stephen Covey)

I realize that some of you might be “Accidental Triathletes”, barely remembering how and why you got into this sport. For some of you, it may have become a way to stay fit, or you like the image, the lifestyle, or like the friends you’ve made along the way. Even so, most of you are still drawn by the competition and stay with the training to see results. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with some of the best triathletes in the world, and I can’t help but notice that those who are maximizing their potential have some common habits:

1)They stay the course

World-class athletes aren’t necessarily training more than you, nor are they training less. They are doing exactly what’s on their schedule. They’ve hired a coach who knows their goals, and the coach has determined that the goals are realistic and has created a plan that always keeps those goals in mind.

Once they agree to work with a coach, they give in to the process. Some of my more cerebral athletes struggle with this, always questioning and reading different training theories because they never really trust that what they are doing is right. Don’t try to outsmart the workout and think of a reason that some other workout would be better for you. You can’t be objective about you. Make sure your coach will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

Do you find that you only do the parts of your schedule that you like and rationalize that some other workout is really what you need? Rookies train in a haphazard, random fashion. You are trying to do better than that. And the truly great athletes never mess with the schedule. Partly because they realize that the discipline to stick with the schedule will give them the discipline to stick with the race.

And they realize that the things on their schedule that they don’t want to do are probably the ones they need the most. A super-cyclist would rather spend time on the bike than running, and the speedy runner would rather have a killer track workout than spend time in the pool. And almost everyone considers a rest day a sign of weakness!

Likewise, if you are constantly modifying your schedule so you can train with your friends, remember that your schedule is created for you, and their schedule is created for them, and if you start cutting and pasting workouts, none of you will achieve your goals.

What to do about it

First, you must actually REFER to your schedule! Focus on the process, not the results. Make one of your training goals to see how long you can follow your schedule without modifying it (unless you are sick or injured!)

Keep it fun by figuring out a way to make training time work for everyone. If your friend wants to run long, but you have a short run on the schedule, tell them you’ll meet them for part of the run. Different paces? One of you plays catch-up while the other gets a head start. If they are suggesting an entirely different workout (run instead of bike, etc), figure out if there’s a way to get them done at the same location. One of you runs the time trial course, while the other bikes;both do the training at the gym; or you train separately but meet for coffee afterward. And, hey– why don’t you suggest they do YOUR workout. If they really like training with you, they will change their schedule to fit yours. But remember, if you want to be great at this sport, every workout is not going to be a party.

Finally, if there’s one regular training session that you really want to take advantage of (and it makes sense for your goals) and it is not on your present schedule, ask your coach if there’s a way to work the schedule on a go-forward basis, but remember: you’ve hired a coach who tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

2)They are patient

I remember at the Level One coaching school we were told that elite athletes train consistently and with focus for 10 years before reaching the elite level (on average). We were told that again at Level Two coaching school. Almost every seminar I’ve attended has hammered home that point. What really made me think about that seriously is when I heard Mark Allen say it during a talk he was giving. He said it as though this news still amazed him.

However, my fellow coaches and I are continually surprised by the number of people who want instant success. Most come into triathlon as adults and many feel like they don’t have 10 years to spend working on greatness. They hire a coach – the pricier the better, and buy equipment – also the pricier the better, and spend the next 6 months being more focused on one thing than they have in a long time.

And yet they are astounded that ‘success’ isn’t coming faster. Of course, they are often using the wrong parameters to measure success. They read about professional triathletes or follow their Twitter feeds as if they might discover the secret shortcut to greatness. And no matter how much improvement they make from their starting point, they are constantly comparing themselves to others and finding themselves wanting. Never mind that the people they are comparing themselves to have been in this sport for years and are trying to shave off seconds here and there; still chasing their dreams.

The longer you stay in this sport, the more likely it is that you will meet some amazing athletes. Some are younger, some are more experienced, and some are just more talented. You are also meeting a lot of new-comers, but you don’t notice, because that’s not you anymore. You’ve lost the first-year nervousness that includes, “I just want to be able to finish the race” and now you have expectations.

What to do about it

First of all, if you are still in this sport a year after your decision to throw your hat in the ring, congratulations! According to research at the University of Florida, 60 % of people who start a training program drop out within the first six months, and 90 % do so by two years. But training implies more than just exercising – it does imply improvement over time.

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