Updated: Dec 15, 2020
by Laura Henry
When athletes decide that they’re going to register for a race, they think about the physical training that they will need to complete in order to reach the start and finish lines of the event. For a triathlon, the athlete will think about the swimming, biking, and running that needs to be completed. For a running race, the athlete will think about the runs that they will need to complete. Deciding on a goal event is an exciting thing for an athlete, and it’s easy to be swept up by the emotions that surround setting a personal goal.
Striking a balance between training and the demands of everyday life is something that every single athlete who I have ever worked for has struggled with at least once. As one of my mentors, Brendan Jackson, used to say, “training should be a sanctuary in their lives, not a stressor.” Athletes set goals because they want to test their own boundaries and find out what they’re capable of, but this goal setting should not come at the expense of the athlete’s personal and family life.
One of the things that I strive to assist with, for the athletes I work for, is the “little things that become the big things” on their journeys to their goals. For a triathlete, for instance, of course there will be swimming, biking, and running workouts scheduled to prepare them to meet that goal. But how will these workouts be included into their daily schedule? How will they balance the demands of everyday life - careers, families, friends - with the demands of their training? How will they prepare themselves mentally for the race? What will they do to ensure their bodies are fueled properly to meet the demands of the output they’re seeking? What gear selection is optimal for a particular athlete? Training plans are truly so much more than the workouts that are listed on them.
Something I find quite helpful as an athlete is taking good notes each time I complete a workout. I record what the weather conditions were like, how my day as a whole was going and how it may have impacted the workout (positively or negatively), how I felt, if anything unusual happened, what I used for nutrition/hydration and what time intervals I consumed it at, and any other factors that might have affected the workout (sleep quality, daily nutrition, life stress, etc.). As a coach, I find this information to be even more valuable. A lot of people think that coaching is a science. I firmly believe that coaching is an art. Yes, there needs to be a science component. But it takes skill to be able to apply the science in a way that is digestible for athletes, and particularly so it’s digestible for the age-group athlete. Data - pace, power, heart rate, cadence, etc. - is great, but it’s not nearly a informative as it is when good qualitative information accompanies it.
Every athlete who I work for is linked to me on Final Surge, which is the electronic platform that Team MPI uses to plan and manage workouts. In the same “space” as their planned workout (which includes extensive notes about what the workout objective is and how the athlete can plan to execute it), athletes can upload their data files and add post-workout comments. This allows me as their coach to see what they did, how they felt, and to analyze the “complete picture” of the workout. Perhaps more importantly, this system allows me to provide sound feedback on a daily basis about how things are going, what things we might want to work on improving together, and to pick up on any “red flags” (such as injury risk) very early on.
So while completing workouts is obviously important when training for a goal event, adding context to those completed workouts is perhaps more important for a goal-oriented athlete. For time-crunched athletes who feel that they do not have the time to add this important information in, I advise cutting workouts five minutes short. With that extra five minutes, they can create a short, but meaningful, record of how things went that will help us both as we progress towards the athlete’s goal. Honestly, that five minutes spent making those notes has a much more lasting long-term impact on an athlete’s plan than getting in an extra half mile on run or a few extra hundred yards on a swim. Training definitely is so much more than just completing workouts, and once athletes grasp this, they can unlock doors on their paths to their true athletic potential.