One of the mistakes I see people making with their training (and by people I really mean me) is being too reactive to our training on any given day or week.

When you’re training for Ironman it’s normal to be tired but being tired isn’t always a reason to not train. The tiredness itself isn’t necessarily the problem, the problem is our reaction to how we feel about it. When fatigue means that we start to go slower in training than we might ideally like to go it can then get into your head and make us doubt the training, or the plan, or the coach, or our own ability. Which can lead to panicking and what I call “reactive training” I like to think that I’ve gotten better at this over the years but Ais might have a different perspective.

  • This isn’t working so I need to try something new

Recently while looking back at my training diaries of the last few years I realised at around the three month mark into each seasons training I often start to feel like there’s something wrong. I am often going slower than I expect, not feeling great and start to worry that I’m low on iron or maybe suffering from some other mysterious malady. Every year this period of poor performance was then followed about a month later by a big jump in fitness, strength and speed. For me it seems to be where the body reaches the first big fitness barrier and the training overloads. If I panicked and changed what we do or stopped listening to Ais at that stage I wouldn’t push through that barrier and get the resulting fitness gains.

Giving a plan enough time to come to fruition is a key part of training for Ironman, there aren’t any quick fixes and a bit like when you start to renovate or extend your house it will likely take considerably longer than you planned (unless you’re Swiss or German then I would guess that things happen exactly according to schedule) and there will be lots of unforseen obstacles along the way to overcome (not to mention always costing more than you predicted, again excepting our more efficient European cousins)

Related post: A 100 week training plan

When you do it right it takes a long time. With long being measured in months and years not days or weeks. The difficulty often arises when you do the right things; big volume at the correct intensity and lots of specific strength work and you initially seem to go backwards. You might think that you’re doing the wrong things, surely training should make you faster not slower. But until the body adapts to the work load Ironman training can build a huge level of fatigue which can initally feel like a step backwards. Reacting to this by giving up on the plan and trying something else before it has a chance to work usually means never breaking through those barriers and taking the next step in fitness.

Related Post: Overreaching & Overtraining

  • Reacting to an individual training session

Another thing that can sabotage an athletes training is how slowly the body builds what is often called “base or aerobic” fitness which is the most important component of fitness for Ironman. Aerobic fitness is only built at what is often perceived as an easy intensity and trains very slowly. The plus side of this is that it also de-trains slowly, you hold onto it the longest.

Ironman training is quite simple. It isn’t complicated and it’s not magic.
But don’t mistake simple with easy. And don’t expect quick results

Because aerobic gains are slow and the training doesn’t always “feel” hard enough it can be very difficult to blindly put in months of training that because it feels so easy often also feels very counter intuitive. It can be hard for an athlete who has never built a big aerobic engine to trust in something that doesn’t really feel like it’s working or that takes so long.

The only real solution to this is to make sure you trust either the coach or the plan you’re using and then just do the work. The results will come, it’s one of the best aspects of Ironman, there’s no requirement to have any particular talent. You just need to be willing to work hard for a long time to achieve success.

  • Reactive training after a bad race. 

An example of this might be where an athlete has a disappointing result at an important race and comes back and makes a reactionary decision based on the poor performance. The reaction might be to increase their training thinking they’re not doing enough or to make a big change in the type of training or it might be to pull the plug on their next race or even their whole season. It might be to enter another race immediately to try to redeem themselves for their poor showing.

Related post: An Iron Honeymoon & Ironman Fortaleza

One of the problems with this sort of knee jerk reaction is that in doing something, doing anything we get relief from the hurt and disappointment but we don’t necessarily address the root cause of the disappointing performance. The follow on from this is that we don’t always go and try to figure out what went wrong or what caused the bad day in the first place. In taking action without the correct analysis of the situation we may well be condemning ourselves to repeating the same mistakes again or worse we may compound the problem by increasing our training load and frying ourselves when training volume wasn’t the issue.

  • So how do I react less?

I guess for me it took a long time to learn to not react to every mistake, bad day or session or even bad week and just keep on going with the plan. And as Ironman Fortaleza taught me I’m still making mistakes and trying to learn from them.

I think it’s always easier to have someone you trust guide or advise on a decision that might otherwise be made emotionally rather than logically. For me that person is Ais, she has that bit of emotional detachment that I don’t because I’m so emotionally invested in a goal or project.

Related: The Kona Project

Another thing to do is to take a break before making the decision, give yourself some distance from the emotional response. If it’s a poor race or disappointing result and you feel that entering another one straight away to make up for that disappointment or will redeem the bad performance. First ask yourself why was the performance bad. Was it something technical you did wrong like slow transitions or not swimming straight? If so then these things can probably be addressed and improved quickly.

If you really just weren’t fit enough to get the result you hoped for then maybe taking some time to assess how to get fit enough to reach your goals and re-adjusting the timeline would be a better thing to do.

I say all of this like I never make these mistakes but the truth is that this is one of the areas I struggle with most of all. When you are so invested in something It’s almost impossible to be objective about the decisions regarding how to get there.

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Thanks for reading

Rob