By Lindsay Hyman, CTS Pro Coach
After wrapping up a successful season of racing, a multi-sport athlete and mother with two small kids who I coach passed along a comment to a friend that made its way back to me. She said, “This is my second year working with Lindsay, and this year, everything clicked. Everything she had me doing made sense. And oddly, the training over this season’s been easier—well, it’s still hard, but there’s less of it—and my results have been better.”
This woman points out something that I have long witnessed, the steady progression of success that comes over years of working with an athlete. “Duh!” you might think. But here’s the thing: so many of the triathletes I see don’t think in terms of steady progression. Most have a “one-and-done” attitude toward finishing a half-Ironman. That is, they start from zero, train hard all season, knock off their goal race and pack it in for the winter.
Next year, they start from zero again, following the same training plan (“It worked last year, didn’t it?”), and typically they experience the same results. Instead, what these triathletes need to do is figure out what went right and what went wrong last year and change next year’s training accordingly.
As a coach, I spend this time of year going through all the notes in my athletes’ training logs and scouring their training files (power numbers from their bike workouts and heart rate/pace logs from their runs) to see when and how things were clicking along and when things began to breakdown. What I’m looking for is a pattern, to see what instigated that downward slide. More often than not, it’s a simple matter of not providing an athlete enough time to recover from an intense block of training. From there I can start tweaking next year’s training schedule.
You should be doing the same: reviewing the season’s data to see where your own breakdowns occurred and learning from them. Some examples:
- Did you put two training races too close together? You can tell if your performance in the second one was worse than the first race. If so, add another couple weeks between races to recover.
- Did you truly recover from a challenging block of training? You’d be able to tell by your splits once you started the next block of training. If they stayed the same or slowed down, then you needed more time to recover.
- Did you truly taper for your big event? You’d know if your pre-race training paces were better than your race’s splits.
Some of this may seem like common sense, but many athletes miss it and rely too heavily on the idea that the cumulative training from one season will automatically provide the basis for improvement the following year. The mindset I have to battle against goes like this: “I blew up halfway through training for my IM 70.3 last year, but I won’t this year because I’ve got last year’s experience in my legs.” And so, the athlete continues blindly down his or her way, without learning anything.
Working with an athlete for one season is nice, but the truth is, the real payoff comes after working with someone for three-plus years. That first season is used for the triathlete and I to build a relationship, dial in his or her nutrition needs both in and out of training, and chart how well they recover from big training blocks or racing. The second year is when the nuanced work really begins. Depending on what a triathlete needs (more endurance, more power at lactate threshold, or top-end VO2 max work), I’ll adjust their volume or intensity. In year three, we’ll be able to look at these tweaks, see what worked, what didn’t, and further tweak the program.
By year three I find that the athlete has total confidence in their training plan and expectations. And the results that I get to see throughout that year speak for themselves.
I’m not writing this column to convince you that you must hire a coach for three years to achieve your 70.3 dreams (although it wouldn’t hurt). No, the message that I want to impart is this: Your training program needs to evolve year after year if you want to continue growing stronger, fitter, and faster. Take some time to review and interpret your data, and think about what you need to change for next year.
Lindsay Hyman is a Pro Level coach with Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. and a certified USAT and USAC Level II Coach. In additional to competing at Ironman distance triathlons, she coaches athletes from first timers to World Champions in sprint to iron-distance events. For further information on coaching, camps and performance testing, visit www.trainright.com/ironman.