The difference between smart (technique) training and hard (as in HiiT – hi intensity interval) training is evident when the number of races an athlete competes in during a season is compared.

The average triathlete [especially those preparing for iron distance events] who follow a typical emailed or downloaded training program overloaded with HiiT sessions usually has one key event per season: their ‘A’ race. In some cases, these triathletes manage to squeeze in another race (i.e. a ‘B’ race) in order to test out their training ahead of their main event, and that is usually the full extent of their season.

The unaverage athlete who trains focusing on skill acquisition, technique development and refinement, and building aerobic capacity can race and race and race again, alternating between training and racing with ease, with little down time.

The average athlete finishes a race and then buckles up to endure days of soreness, aches and pain. The average athlete who pushes beyond themselves, racing out of body for most or all of a race can do so much damage that for days, sometimes weeks they cannot walk properly, they have difficulty lifting or moving their arms or twisting their back, they complain of difficulty going up or down stairs, sometimes squatting on/off the toilet requires wincing. In the worst cases, athletes who train hard (i.e. HiiT based training programs) go beyond damaging their physical body, having ‘dug so deep’ (as if its a positive thing) during the race that they pushed not just their musculoskeletal system but their neurological and endocrine (hormonal) systems into such overdrive that they cannot seem to come down off the ‘high’ (as in an addicts high). For these athletes, a full nights sleep is a distant memory, and full recovery a fairytale. For these athletes, their immune systems have been compromised to such a degree from the effort they put forth in their race that weight gain, injury, illness, and in the worst cases, auto immune disease type signs and symptoms are a daily drain. The positive memories of training and racing are blurred behind the overhanging physical, mental and emotional discomfort or full out pain.

The unaverage athlete deals with none of these issues because the athletes who train skill, technique and capacity race within themselves. These athletes know that there is always another race in the series that they have to be ready to deliver yet another peak performance if they are going to be World Champion, they know that there is always is another event in the schedule that their sponsors may require them to compete at in order to fulfill their contractual arrangements. Leaving it all out on the course doesn’t make sense because there is always another race, another season, another championship to be won. These athletes know that compromising their health, their well-being, their body, mind and spirit in any one race is to gamble with their professional athletic career. The best of the best know that its never one race that makes a legend, its the athlete who wins competition after competition, race after race, season after season, tournament after tournament, championship after championship who ends up rewriting the history of their sport.

Question is… why do average athletes not train and race like unaverage athletes? Who sold them that sport is about pain, about suffering? Sport is about grace, elegance, effortless movement, and crossing a finish line measuring success by how closely technique, tactics and strategy were executed. The winner is not a measurement of who sacrifices the most, hurts the most, suffers and endures the most agony of all athletes.

Consider pro cyclists:

  • Michael Woods, a Canadian pro who in 2017 rode for the Cannondale-Drapac team shares how he raced 85 times in the season.
  • Chris Froome, a British pro who rides for Team SKY competed in 2017 in the Tour de France (a 21 day race held over 23 days) as well as the Vuelta a Espana (another 21 days of racing), add in the Criterium du Dauphine, the Herald Sun Tour, plus UCI World Championships where he raced both in the individual and team time trial events, plus a few smaller races and you end up with a race calendar of over 70 days of racing. If that wasn’t enough, then consider that as leader of Team SKY, Froome was expected to win the grand tours and personally I am sure he wanted to stand on the podium of the UCI events as well.

To be able to race and recover to then race again the next day, the next week and the next month for an entire season does not come through hard HiiT training. Absolutely, these athletes prepare for competition by peaking (i.e. performing a specific volume of HiiT) but the relative volume of this type of training to all their other training is nowhere close to how much average athletes depend on hard training to achieve their goals.

To be able to race and recover to then race again and again is built not in one off season, this capacity is built up over years and years, and years before these athletes arrive on the scene as professionals.

Average athletes want it all, and they want it all in one season, preferrably in just a few months… yet they wonder why they spend so much time injured, ill, in pain, sucking on gels and NSAIDs, and can only imagine competing in one or two events (which they also expect to nail perfectly).

The chart below counts the races each member of our family competed in during the 2017 season.

The chart below shows a 12 day period in 2017 during which one of the family competed a total of 6 times.

As a family, we competed in a total of 113 events… swim meets, open water swim events, triathlons, cycling races, running races both on the road and off. And we transitioned between training and racing often times putting in a training ride later on in the same day that we raced.  How?

When you compete this often, you stop putting weight on any one competition as an indication of your overall performance, of your overall training.  In fact, you start using competitions to test out new techniques, new skills, and to evaluate the capacity you have built.

When you compete this often, you stop competing during training. When athletes compete once or twice a year the temptation arises to ‘check’ how much power, what split can be achieved for a specific interval, what average speed can be held for a regular training route and so on. In time, average athletes spend more time competing during training then training during training with one consistent outcome: these athletes can set personal best times, wattage levels, average speeds in training but when it comes time to racing… they flop, fizzle, and then face plant on the race finish line.

When you compete this often, you use training time to… train! Races are used to evaluate what training to this point has achieved, and races are used to adjust training to take the athlete in the desired direction for a particular period or perhaps the entire season.

When you compete this often, the anxiety of competing subsides. Races are no longer one time events, all-in gambles that have to prove that the 10 whole weeks of training was not a waste. All of a sudden, competing can become fun because it becomes casual: casual in the sense that when you do it so often you don’t build it up into something it isn’t (a measure of your life as an athlete, a measure of your athletic potential or in worst cases… a measure of self worth).

When you compete this often, you start to relax and start to focus not on racing others, but on racing yourself… being the best that you can be on that day. You start to focus on executing the skills you have acquired, the technique you have been refining, and testing to see how much capacity you have… what is the highest sustainable speed that you can hold.

When you compete often enough… the athlete can strike a balance between the effort they put forth in training, knowing that another race is coming up shortly and the best use of their time, their energy, their effort is not in trying to set a personal best in a workout, on a trainer, or on a group run… its about being your best on race day.

A challenge… put enough races in your calendar this year that instead of competing in training, you start training in your training times.  When you have enough races you will stop checking to see if you are faster and will start working on becoming faster.  With enough races, you will stop working on top end effort (HiiT) and like the best of the best you will start to work on your recover-ability.  The unaverage athlete is the athlete who recovers fastest… think about that.