On Thursday, Aimee and I will be sitting down with an athlete to discuss their multisport training and racing goals. This athlete is relatively new to the TOEST & TOETT teams, and came to us with prior training and racing experience in cycling and running but sought us out for the slim chance that he may just be able to learn how to swim by the time he turns 60 (and ups age groups). Why do I mention this athlete? Because he did learn to swim, and this summer exactly one year after taking our Learn2Swim program, this athlete completed two 1,000m open water swims improving his time from the first to the second. Now that he is swimming, the opportunity to do triathlons is available. With prior bike-run competitions, this athlete wants to compete in a triathlon… but not the triathlon I want them to start with. I want him to start at the beginning… mastering the skill set which is competing, and that is done by mastering Try A Tri/Super Sprint distance triathlons.

I mention this athlete because the decision of how to start in sport is a decision every athlete makes, and what that decisions is determines not only the outcome of their first event… it will determine the long term trajectory of that athlete.

Once on a path, it is impossible to skip sideways onto another training and racing philosphy. To change paths, to change philosophies requires returning to the fork in the road where the decision was made. The challenge though is that once an athlete has traveled down a path, especially if they have had anything which they perceive as ‘success’, means few are willing to ‘go back to zero’, few are willing to return to the fork in the road, to start all over again by making a different decision.

Problem #1

Most athletes have no idea they are even making a decision by how they train and compete for their first triathlon, running road race, swim meet, or cycling event.

Problem #2

Most coaches have no idea that athletes are making a decision, therefore they fail to sit down and discuss with athletes not just their immediate plans, but their long term plans, their health goals, their goals to become resilient, robust, dynamic flexible athletes, to build a body and brain that will last well into the golden years, perhaps the platinum years for a few. As a result, most coaches steer athletes to seek short cuts to their short term goals, and in so doing, they set their athletes up to lose long term because the short term path precludes winning consistently in the long term.

I have worked with athletes who are losing race after race, who suffer injury after injury, illness after illness, all as a side effect of their training, and despite the path – the training and racing philosophy – which they are traveling resulting in this pattern of repeated failure, they fail to appreciate that the path they are on is the result of a decision they once made. They refuse to conceptualize that they put themselves on this path, they refuse to accept that they decided long ago on their path, this path that is leading to failure after failure; so understanding that changing paths is simply a decision away… is denied. To blind themselves to the opportunity, to the option that a course change is possible, they tie themselves to their path deferring to social norms of old age, prior injuries, prior failures, to medical diagnoses being the culprit at the root of their failure to truly experience and live out their fullest potential.

A couple years ago or so, there was another athlete that I tried to help.  This athlete came to us injured, injured as a result of their prior coach driving them harder and harder, until they literally broke down unable to train. I encouraged this athlete to consider going back to the fork in the road, starting over by changing their approach to training and racing. Having already trained and raced and having stood on a podium or two, this athlete was not prepared to go backwards, they only wanted to hear how they could go forward… continue as close as possible what they’ve been doing, but obtain different results. In the end, we couldn’t come to a consensus so we parted ways. Unfortunately for this athlete… they continue to relive groundhog day in their triathlon performances… year after year.

This athlete started in triathlons about 7 years ago, their splits from their first triathlon are in the image immediately below.

Despite training every year since that first triathlon, and despite training under the guidance of various Ironman coaches, this triathlete was stuck. Stuck how? Stuck the way almost every athlete who starts off wanting to just ‘do’ a race ends up… in what is a dead-end loop of training and racing… training and racing that leads to a whole pile of nothing.

After years of trying, this athletes ended up where many if not most athletes end up… unable to improve. Unable to improve, they decided that the only available option to be ‘epic’, the only option to reliving the feeling of their first event was to race longer, and longer distances and like so many others they ended up at iron distance triathlons. Like so many, they end up doing one maybe two races a year because they like to train, but what’s the point in racing when each race only reveals yet again the slim chance of ever truly feeling successful: as in actually improving, progressing in any significant manner. When progress does occur for this athlete – like all the athletes in this scenario – it comes at the expense of the other sports… a faster swim, leads to a slower bike, a slower run or both slower bike and run splits; a faster bike results in a slower run or the dreaded walk-run which is how many athletes finish triathlons.

In the images below are the splits for this athlete from their once a year triathlon. I challenge you to place these splits in chronological order, and I also challenge you to identify… the distances of each event: there is 1 – Sprint distance triathlon, 1 – Olympic distance, 2 Long Course triathlons, 1 – 70.3 IM, and 1 full IM.

Its groundhog day…. over and over… different distance, different event, different location… but same swim split, same bike split, same run split (more or less).

Can you imagine the frustration, the disappointment, the anger that must be building in this athlete for training year after year… and not seeing any meaningful improvement. After 7 years, unable to consistently take off even 5 secs / 100m in the swim must be agonizing. Yet, this is normal for the majority of athletes, and because it is ‘normal’ everyone seems to simply settle into the meme that… there is no chance of ever seeing material improvement, consistent progress… so train, and hope that your next iron distance triathlon doesn’t put you into the medical tent.

I can imagine the frustration, the disappointment, the anger… I’ve been here, I’ve done this… I’ve put in months and years of training to see my results only go backwards, not forwards. Not only that, but I put my kids into the same scenario… and saw them become frustrated, disappointed, angry. So we stopped. We stopped, and as a family we started all over again… we went back to the fork in the road, we went back to the place where we made the decision to go one way, and we went the other way.

There is another way to train.

There is another way to compete.

Prove it!

No problem… review the results on the TOEST and TOETT websites. Click under Results from the Main Menu and you will see the proof. Athletes of all ages, athletes with various training and racing experience and most importantly athletes with no prior athletic experience as age groupers improving, race after race, event after event, in one sport and across several.

There is another way.

It is a way that offers consistent step by step progress. The steps may be small at times, larger at others, but the steps are clear, the trajectory is clear, there is no doubt that there is progress and that is all that matters. Why? Because no matter how small the progress, no matter how small the steps… when you start to experience consistent progress, you start to feel success. When you start to feel success, you gain confidence. When you gain confidence, you gain belief and when you gain belief that is when you start setting bigger and bigger goals because you know that you are on a path that doesn’t become a dead-end. You know that you are on a path that can lead you to victory after victory. And with that you experience fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment and most importantly joy. You may not be where you want to be, but you know you are on your way… and that is all that matters.

In the end I believe we will all agree that Robert Frost was right all along…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.