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Reflecting on the Journey
An excerpt from Fast-Track Triathlete, a new book by endurance coach Matt Dixon.
The excerpt below is from Matt Dixon’s new book, Fast-Track Triathlete: Balancing a Big Life with Big Performance in Long-Course Triathlon (VeloPress, 2017).
"While I am a professional triathlete, I also juggle the enjoyable yet challenging commitments of family and being CEO of Picky Bars. If I simply chased a traditional program, without consideration of my life stressors, I would be sure to find myself on a journey to failure."
Reflecting On the Journey
Although there are objective and subjective ways to review various aspects of race performance, results, and the overall outcome, based on the mindset we established early in this book, we know race results do not represent the total definition of success for a season. We also have to take a more holistic view of how we did along the way, and that requires a comprehensive look at the journey you were on for the previous year.
Looking back at your journey, recall what you did exceptionally well. Were you more consistent in executing your key workout sessions than in past seasons? Did you improve your bike-handling skills and your ability to ride in aero position? Did you run with better form than in previous race buildups? Were you able to effectively scale workouts when contingencies arose in your work or family life? It’s easy to relish your success, but there should be a moment to look back and understand specifically what you did well and why you did it well. After you’ve identified those details, consider how you were able to translate those to race day.
It’s equally important to review any disappointing days through an objective lens. In your review, look for lessons and insights that can shape your continued progression. Were there days during your journey in which you missed workouts, didn’t sleep enough, or deviated from good nutrition habits? Did a last-minute, two-day business trip throw a wrench into your training for several days? Were you sick several times during the buildup to your race, or did you suffer pesky recurring or significant injuries? If so, what caused this to happen, and what did you learn?
"Race results do not represent the total definition of success for a season," says elite endurance coach Matt Dixon of Purple Patch Fitness.
Because this approach is intended to be all about sustainability with bigger gains, it’s important to look back at the final weeks before your race and evaluate your mindset. Were you able to hold on to the essence of this holistic approach, or did you start to break down physically, mentally, or emotionally? In the final 10–14 days before the race, did you feel healthy, excited, and vibrant? Did you feel strong, fit, and well rested? Or did you feel generally fatigued? It’s natural for an athlete to feel flat in the final week or two before a race, given the reduced workload and additional free time while tapering workouts.
Plenty of athletes approach race day with a desperate “I have a race coming up, and I hope it goes well” kind of anxiety. We all express the pre-race nervousness in different ways, and nerves can be essential to getting yourself mentally prepared for an event. Ideally, though, you should feel confident, relaxed, energized, and even a bit loose as your race approaches. Any nerves should be labeled excitement and priming for your race instead of fear. That’s exactly how pro triathlete Chris Lieto was just before he finished 2nd in the 2009 Ironman World Championships. Chris was fit, giddy with excitement, and ready to have a great day on the Kona course. He was also asking me whether he should plan on doing Ironman Arizona about six weeks later. This question, arriving in race week of the World Championships, was a clue that he was ready for a great performance in Hawaii. He was so invigorated that even before the biggest race of the season he was excited for what came next.
The reality is that not everyone feels so great in the weeks leading up to a race. A telltale sign might be a less-than-enthusiastic demeanor toward your race or even “I can’t wait for this to be over so I can get this monkey off my back.” Breaks are important after a big event, but if you have developed a love-hate relationship with triathlon, it’s important to stop and take inventory of your situation.
If you struggled with fatigue or lack of enthusiasm in the weeks leading up to the race, it could be a sign that something was slightly out of line with one or more of the pillars of performance. Review your sleep habits to see how consistent you were in getting adequate rest. That’s often the point where things begin to go out of whack. Even if you started your journey with good intentions of getting sufficient rest, it’s usually the first casualty when you’re deep into training, work projects, and family life.
"Each time I have tried endurance sports I have found myself quickly succumbing to a cycle of injury, while it also being a drag on my ability to fit it all in with all my other business and life commitments.
"The Purple Patch approach has been refreshing, and not only has allowed me to thrive in sport, but also helped my energy and mindset for life’s activities."
Our task is to thrive in life. Results are important, but the other key indicator is whether this lifestyle is sustainable. Did you build consistency in your preparation? At some level, it’s important to ignore your race outcome entirely and think through the methodology of your approach, your mindset, and how you set the lens on your available time. In which areas did you thrive and in which areas not so much? What stumbling blocks didn’t you anticipate? How would you rate yourself in execution relative to your planning? Did you retain the intent, rhythm, and planning of the training? These are the building blocks of your training. How well did you complete your journey relative to your initial assessment of when you would be always available, sometimes available, and never available? How effective were you at training during those times?
Also, consider whether you managed to maintain balance in the rest of your life. What did your immersion into triathlon do to your family life and relationships? Did it improve your relationship with training? Did it boost your energy in life? After getting through the training program relative to your other experiences in life leading up to your race, did you feel more confident, more physically prepared, and more mentally prepared? Or did you feel undertrained because you were forced to miss too many training sessions? How did the impact of your training load affect you? Did you walk around like a zombie in your busy life? Did you not perform well at work? Did you not sleep as much? If you did not do well in any of these areas, what forced the situation, and what can change it?
"In your post-race analysis, it’s important to identify where you became unhinged so that you can determine how to rectify those situations."
Chances are that you’ve had concerns about some of these things in the past or you’ve gone through this journey before and certain things unhinged you. In your post-race analysis, it’s important to identify where you became unhinged so that you can determine how to rectify those situations. For example, if you consistently missed swim workouts because 5:30 a.m. was just too early in the morning based on the variables of your life, then a simple scheduling change could help solve that problem. Or if you planned your run interval workouts on the same days as a morning strength session and found yourself skipping or scaling the workouts because of fatigue, you could reorganize your weekly training schedule going forward.
All of the information you gather from a review of your journey can help you begin to paint a picture of perfection versus reality. No one goes through a training cycle perfectly, not even the world’s top pros. However, by creating that picture and understanding the contrast, you can get a sense of how things really went for you. Perhaps you’ll look back and realize you did almost everything you could and had only a few minor challenges. Or maybe you realize you skipped or scaled the majority of your swim workouts, or you didn’t do enough endurance sessions on the bike or long runs. You might realize you were trying to cram way too much training into your week, which was detrimental to your work performance, relationships, and your sleep. You might need to back off so you can be more consistent. If you were never sick, never overly fatigued, and never had injuries, you might have undertrained for your event and you might need to add more training to your regimen in the future. It’s uncommon, but possible.
It’s difficult to reflect on a journey, whether it is 10 or 20 or 52 weeks long, if you haven’t tracked your workouts and reviewed the subjective and objective data. Use that information to understand how well you adhered to the training prescribed, how you pragmatically evolved your training (either by scaling, postponing, or skipping workouts), and what your mood and comments were both about specific workouts and at different times throughout your journey. Memories fade quickly, but tracking your training really helps. Being able to look back at your workouts with the perspective of your own feedback can empower you to understand what actually happened, especially as you’re doing a post-race review.
"I started the multipart journey with some goals, but also questioning how I could fit it into my busy life. Fast forward, my lens has shifted to realize that integrating the sport and positive habits is an asset to my performance in work and life, hence has become a non-negotiable tool in helping my global performance."
You might need to consider other aspects of your life as well after a race. Although your race might have been a fun and positive experience, perhaps the path to get there was overwhelmingly challenging and dominated too much of your life. If that’s the case, perhaps you need to go back to the start and reconsider how many hours during the week you have for training. It could be that you trained 15 or 16 hours per week, and, in reality, you really only had time for 12 or 13. If you wound up missing workouts, scaling workouts, or having challenges at work on a regular basis, those extra 3 to 4 hours of planned training every week might be the culprit. Reducing your training load by a few hours a week could pay huge dividends and keep your energy balanced across your entire life.
Another common element among many age-group triathletes is the desire to lose weight or improve your body composition. Maybe you approached a triathlon with the idea of getting fit. Did that happen? If you went through a training cycle and you followed everything correctly, you ate plenty, and you followed a good diet, but you still retained weight or had disappointing body composition, it could be that you have too much stress in your life. By fitting training into the scope of your life, getting sufficient sleep, and eating well, you’ll be more successful in managing stress and likely have a better path toward the physical changes you seek.
Ultimately, when you look back at your journey, you’ll want to look at all of these facets to get a global snapshot of your training cycle and race performance. Using that information, you can start to determine how you will make minor or major changes the next time around. If you went through this journey again, where would you place your focus? What would you improve next time?
For more excerpts from Fast-Track Triathlete, visit www.velopress.com/fast-track-triathlete.