One of the differences between training for Ironman as compared to short course triathlon can be the fact that it can often tend to be quite solitary. This suits some athletes more than others in that some people find the social aspect of group or club training very motivating and enjoyable whereas other athletes do much better training alone. There are pros and cons to both.
Measuring yourself against others can often either be a form of motivation or a source of stress. If for example you’re not where you’d like to be fitness wise it may be very motivating to get your arse handed to you. Getting you all fired up to train harder but it may conversely be something that makes you feel like quitting and affects your motivation to train. I tend to do most of my training either with Ais or alone. I do some sessions with our squad but these are limited often because of our funny working hours. I tend to prefer this as I don’t have to compromise on the session I have to do to accommodate anyone else. The flip side of this is that for some sessions it is hugely beneficial to be pushed. Ais always says you will never work as hard in a session as when there’s someone on your shoulder pushing you or breathing down your neck.
Related post: Ironman Training Motivation
Benefits to training alone or times when I find it better.
Unless you’re either the strongest athlete or the one leading the session training in a group it can actually hamper your progress and sometimes quite badly. If you’re training for an Ironman and your long ride is with the local road club on their Sunday spin and you’re on your limit to stay with the group for 130k then you are training the wrong part of your fitness and are likely not getting the maximum benefit from the session, in fact it can cause you to plateau or even go backwards if you are so fried that that one hard session causes you to miss or be unable to complete the following training days properly.
A possible solution might be to step down to a slower group and offer to lead it. It will help you save face as you won’t be seen as not being able to ride with the faster group but instead you will be seen as an asset to the club. Often the argument against this is that the slower group don’t ride far enough. Again if you’re determined to “train better” then maybe you could do whatever extra mileage you need before the ride. That way you won’t be out half the day if you’ve got family duties later on. The benefit to being the strongest rider in a group is that you’re in control of the speed and should always be in the correct training zone for Ironman. To make it more difficult and increase the training benefits I ride a big gear at a low cadence which is a fantastic way to build strength and also has the effect of slowing me down.
Training alone, particularly for the longer sessions teach you how to deal with what some people find to be one of the hardest parts of Ironman, the loneliness of a day long race. You might be on the course with 2000 other athletes but the day is very much spent inside your own head focusing on pacing, nutrition and whatever else gets you through the day. If you’ve never had to do this in training because all of your training is in a group then it can be difficult on race day.
Training partners motivation.
I know several athletes who do almost all of their training with others. They really enjoy the social aspect of group rides or runs but some of them also really struggle to train alone. There’s a part of me that thinks that once you’re training it doesn’t matter how you get it done and for certain athletes this is always true. If all you want to do is stay fit and enjoy a big day out with your mates once a year at an Ironman then how you get the session done doesn’t really matter and the drawbacks of group rides or runs don’t matter so much. For this type of athlete just the general fitness benefit gains are enough.
For someone looking for the best performance they can produce then the social enjoyment of a group session must be weighed up against hours spent in the wrong training zone going too hard and not delivering the potential gains that could be gotten by training a little smarter.
What’s more important, the banter on the group ride or your race day performance?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Either one can be correct depending on your goals but if you answered race day performance then your training should be built to suit that end and that will sometimes mean sacrificing the social side of training to get the really good quality work done correctly.
Risking burnout and a life in the sport
One of the dangers of building your whole training life around “performance” and sacrificing lots of what you enjoy about the sport like group rides or runs is burnout. Ironman tends to have a fairly high turnover of athletes. Most people do a couple of years but find the demands on their time and lives too big so either switch to a single sport or go back to short course racing. Finding the balance between getting the quality work done and enjoying the training is one of the things the most successful athletes have mastered. Spending 2-3 months at the most critical times of the year being selfish with the type of session can be balanced with long periods where you opt for the easier to do social rides and runs so you don’t end up sick of trainiung alone all the time.
I’m very lucky to get to do a lot of my training social or otherwise with Ais, whether it’s runs, swims or bike sessions, we build training around our lives and as such it’s much easier to have company for a lot of the workouts. Group turbo rides allow athletes of different abilities train together at their own level so everyone gets the best quality workout. Track sessions are the same as are swims.
Getting the balance right for you so that you get the maximum benefits from your training and at the same time having it be something that is sustainable for life I think is crucial. While we may be competetive some seasons there are lots of years when all we can manage is to stay active and fit and it’s in these periods that the motivational benefits of club and group training becomes invaluable as we switch to what might be called exercise rather than training. I would like to think that I have a lot of years racing ahead of me but during the times that life gets in the way of triathlon I will always have swim, bike or running to fall back on as a way of life and of staying fit and healthy and also as a way of relieving stress and enjoying being outdoors.
What type of athlete are you? Do you prefer to train alone or do you love the social side of it? Answer in the comments section below.