Most of us over estimate what we can do in a year or even just a couple of months and under estimate what we can do in 2, 3,4 or even 10 years. When we set out with a target to do our first race be it a triathlon, running race, Ironman or whatever the challenge a lot of us give it a certain amount of time. It might be 4, 6 or maybe even 20 weeks to get fit and complete the event. Often our next target is to get faster so we go back and again we allow ourselves a certain amount of time to get in shape. Sometimes we add in extra training and maybe do some intervals or other specific sessions. This usually works for a while and we get faster, then along comes the big idea. I wonder could I podium in my age group, win a small race, break a certain time for a distance or whatever the target is. It’s often a stretch from where we currently are so when we decide to go for it we train like crazy. Harder, more, longer sessions and sometimes it works but often it doesn’t and as failure looms we stop and accept defeat. But what if the only thing we are getting wrong is the amount of time it takes? What if we allowed ourselves longer to reach the big goals. Instead of thinking about how fit you could get in 10 weeks of cramming in training for an event what if you managed to do a little less each week but trained consistently in a sustainable manner for 100 weeks? Can you even begin to imagine how much fitter, faster, stronger or healthier you would be if you were able to sustain a training block for 400 weeks? If training properly, consistently became a lifestyle and a normal part of your life.
By complete coincidence only this morning I listened to Bryan Mc Crystal being interviewed on a Sunday Sport show and when he was asked how did he break the Irish Ironman record not once but twice last year he answered by going back to when he started in triathlon in 2007 or 2008. Admittedly Bryan is a bit of a freak, he’s got what might be described as an engine the size of a small house when it comes to the bike but he will tell you himself that relative to his bike ability he is a somewhat weak swimmer and although he can run well for a big lad it’s not his strength either. So in reality he has picked a sport where he just happened to be lucky enough to be exceptional at one of the three aspects. So how does an uber-biker go and become the fastest triathlete in the country? He trained, raced and learned for the last 8 years (lets not forget that before that he played pro football for Leeds United in Britain so he’s actually been in sports about 20 years)
You could say he’s just your typical overnight success. It only took him about 400 weeks to become the athlete he is now and the best in the country.
Years ago while talking to another elite triathlete we sponsored I asked him what his targets were in the sport and he went on to tell me where he saw himself in a month, 6 months, a year and 2 years and more. I was gobsmacked, he thought about his sport the way I thought about my business. I know where I want to be with it in 1, 2 or three years but I also have daily, weekly and monthly targets to hit along the way. Back then I’d never come across someone who thought about triathlon and more particularly Ironman in that way.
I know that when I started in business the things I thought were limits have all changed. 15 years ago what I thought of as a monthly target is now often a daily one. I wouldn’t have believed that was possible if you had told me, I simply wouldn’t have been able to comprehend how.
The limits we set are only the limits of our current reality or the limits of how far we can imagine. If we dream big we have to allow that it will take time to become something that at present is way beyond our reach. When I first set out with the dream to qualify for Kona I was so far away from that reality that it looked impossible to everyone (including both myself and my coach at the time) except Aisling. When we started we aimed to do it in less than 6 months but I knew that if I didn’t make it first time out that I would keep going for 12, 18 or 24 months if that’s what it took.
I think one of the most important things to learn about improving and becoming good at Ironman is that it can take a long time. It really is one of the most critical aspects to improvement is to allow that time. If you really want to become good at Ironman age isn’t the limiter, talent isn’t the limiter (thankfully for me on both counts) so stop thinking about being in a hurry and only giving yourself 5, 10, 15 or 20 weeks to become faster. Allow that if you think not only about this years race but about next year and the year after imagine how much you could improve by training for the next 400 weeks consistently.
Then think about how much you would have to slow down in your training so as not to burn yourself out. Now you’re getting close to the idea of living the Ironman lifestyle. Something that improves with age and experience, something that we can do for ever.
When we look further than just today’s training to next week or next month then we can approach the sessions a little differently. If I know that I have 14 hours of hard hilly biking in the program this week then I’ll make sure that I don’t fry myself on the long interval run on Thursday. I want to get ALL the training done, not just the one epic session. Then I want to make sure that I can finish out the current training block so I don’t need to take extra rest days because I’ve overdone a couple of sessions. I always try to look ahead, what effect will today’s decision have on tomorrows or next weeks training? What effect will training through an injury have next week, next month or longer term?
Ironman is a wonderful sport where a 43 year old is occasionally winning the race overall. Both Cam Brown and Craig Alexander Professional Ironman athletes have kicked the young guns off the top step of the podium this year, both are well into their 40’s. Ironman can be like a fountain of youth but only if we live it sensibly.
I have written a report examining how 5 of the most successful Irish Ironman triathletes have qualified for Kona an incredible 29 times. You can access it free here.
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