I'm reading a book called You Are a BadAss: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. I know, right? It had me at “badass!” We should all be reading this book! Throughout the pages, the author humorously and irreverently guides us through the steps to becoming awesome (I'm taking notes), often reminding us that we already are (whew!), but that sometimes we need a little kick in the pants and pep talk along the way (ya think?). Sometimes, we simply need to go back to the basics and remind ourselves how far we've come because we're probably further along than we ever thought possible, right? I thought so. It's February, and you're now searching websites, forums, and calendars for events to tackle this 2014 race season. Before you rush to throw another medal on the hook, do yourself a favor. Take a look back and evaluate your previous season. Ask yourself these important questions:
With hindsight and honesty, you can view the highs and lows in a more realistic perspective. Far too often, we put a tremendous amount of attention on the things that went wrong and spend too little time celebrating the days that went right. It's human nature, I suppose, but don't forget to give yourself the pat on the back that you deserve for your successes. Yep, that's “coach-speak” for being grateful. It just so happens that gratitude is also one of the key elements of becoming a badass.
Hopefully, you're looking ahead with the passion and enthusiasm of a beginner. Training Peaks' content editor Gloria Liu refers to this time of year as the “dreaming season.” She wrote, “We’re all dreaming of the ways that this season is going to be bigger, better, and more successful than the last. Some of us will decide to go further—tackling a full Ironman for the first time, or conquering the legendary Leadville 100 trail race. Some will want to go faster—to finally break five hours in the 70.3 distance, or to make it onto the podium in our local road race. Some will challenge themselves by jumping into a new sport altogether. Whatever it is, we’ll throw ourselves wholeheartedly into our pursuit because we know that the journey to becoming better athletes makes us better people, too.” Amen, sister. As you ponder “what might be” with the fervor of a 4-year-old at the Big Top Candy Shop, use this time wisely to go back to the basics and lay a solid foundation for your dream season.
As famed triathlon/cycling expert Joe Friel said, “This is the time of year when you should train to train, not train to race.” If your race season doesn't start until spring, this time of year is generally known as your prep and base periods. Before you start hammering up hills and pounding out intervals, take the next several weeks to simply build some aerobic base fitness and work on functional strength and flexibility. Prepare your body for the stresses to come. In other words, build the foundation of your house before you start decorating it. Enjoy the relief of lower intensity training, and do the things you wish you had time for when you're “in season.” Go mountain biking with some friends, take yoga, or work on your core with a barre or Pilates session. The purpose of this time is to give your head a “mental flush” and your body a head start on the muscles associated with your sport of choice. Build your foundation on a slab of concrete, not sand.
Ever notice that, during pregame, basketball players always practice lay-ups and free throws, and football players always practice tackling and speed drills? They work on the fundamentals every day. Like a saw that needs sharpening after it goes dull due to overuse, we, too, grow dull in our basic skills and need sharpening on a regular basis. For triathletes and swimmers, this is the perfect time to hop in the pool (I know, brr!) and work on slow and deliberate drills sets. Again, you are creating muscle memory for your sport. Seek out coaching or clinics to hone your skills. Many coaches will videotape you and provide valuable feedback to improve and sharpen your toolset. In the same way, cycling and spin coaches will work on pedaling skills, such as one-legged drills and high-cadence spinning. Both increase efficiency, hip flexor strength, and power distribution throughout the entire pedal stroke. Of course, giving due diligence to honing skills takes time and patience, but it pays dividends during race season when you are flying by the competition with more efficiency and less fatigue. Last year, I worked with a triathlete who loved to grind heavy gears with a low cadence. Many of his scheduled workouts started to include the dreaded “100+” cadence practice. After a few weeks, he began to notice a huge difference. Last May, he raced Ironman Texas and shaved off more than 45 minutes on his previous bike time. He committed to working on sharpening the tools in his toolbox and built the perfect bike leg for an Ironman.
If you're looking at the blueprints of your dream home—or your dream race confirmation entry—and thinking to yourself, “OK: Now what?” perhaps it's time to hire a decorator/coach to get you there. Ideally, you've built the foundation and the frame. You can even visualize what you want your dream race to look like…but you aren't sure how to realize it. This is where good coaching comes in to play. Work with someone who gets your style. If you need the motivation of a group to get up early, there are plenty of those in town. If you have strategic goals that rely on a solo, monastic approach to training, there are coaches for that as well. Good decorators/coaches know how to highlight your tastes and strengths. You have the intrinsic motivation, and they have just the right eye to make it shine. (Heck, I can pick out a couch with the best of them, but I have no idea how to make it look like the storefront window of Nest Modern, so I’ll leave choosing the right pillows and such to a decorator.)
When the last nail has been hammered and the final painting has been hung, don't forget to raise a glass and toast the many months of sweat and labor. Every new home has a punch list, a list of things that need to be fixed or repaired along the way. Isn't the same true with our training season? Things will inevitably go wrong. Our bodies have a punch list all their own, with doctor's appointments, massages, and injuries that pop up along the way. No dream home is perfect (just ask Sandra Bullock about her Lake Austin nightmare), and no training season is perfect. Still, though, if you've constructed a solid foundation, kept your tools sharp, and hired the perfect decorator, you'll be able to sit in the living room of your dream home with the newly acquired finisher's medal around your neck and celebrate your success knowing you constructed your dream season. It's time to lay the foundation on your 2014 season with a four-week beginner base-building plan for the upcoming triathlon season. This 12-week plan will lead you right up to popular local triathlons in May, including the Rookie Tri and Life Time Tri: CapTex. Use these first four weeks to sharpen the tools in your own toolbox and lay the foundation for a great season!