Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Whether you're an elite endurance athlete or an age-grouper, the key to "success" is to enjoy your sport. How? Well, here are some thoughts that I've learned over the years that are universal to all successful athletes who seemingly love what they do.
Seems obvious, but setting goals is essential for us to stay motivated and committed to training and racing. However, I often see athletes blurring the lines between different types of goals. In general, I recommend an athlete sets three goals: a Realistic Goal, the Main Goal, and a Dream Goal.
All things being equal, your Realistic Goal is something you KNOW you can achieve - like completing the event. The Main Goal is what we feel we can do and will do. Dream Goal is the breakout race where everything goes your way - including things outside your control (weather, competitors, etc.). Athletes should focus on Main Goal and NOT be so critical if they don't get their Dream Goal. It doesn't happen every time!
Have a process, believe in a process, and trust a process. Successful athletes do this, allowing them to work hard on hard days and enjoy the easy days. As a result, they don't get panicky or greedy with training.
Feeling of Being Fit:
There is no greater joy than feeling fit. While most athletes are fit, many don't feel fit because they're perpetually tired due to poor recovery. For those that do feel fit, it's what makes them a "lifestyle" athlete and brings them endless joy. That joy brings success.
Swimming, running, hiking, skiing, riding, and racing with other people are some of the great joys for successful athletes. Whether it's one person, a small group of friends, or a larger club of friends, sharing in the highs and lows of training and racing with others is incredible. Unfortunately, going the lone wolf way usually ends with an athlete stopping and being burnt out.
There are many things outside the athlete's control (weather, bad luck, random sickness, competitor's fitness, etc.) The longer the endurance event, the larger those outside factors can play in the outcome. Successful athletes understand this and put it into perspective. Like professional golfers, the professional endurance athlete strives for the perfect event but knows he/she may never achieve it. Focusing on all the good things keeps the athlete coming back for more.
It's what truly successful endurance athletes crave. Certainly, there's the physical pain; but at some point, successful athletes learn how to push their body farther and farther based on their ability to suffer…mentally. And when they do and come out on the other side, there's no better feeling. I've always said that a great endurance event is filled with a year's worth of emotions.
Successful endurance athletes are consistent with their training, nutrition, self-awareness, recovery, and attitude. They commit to being consistent.
Every season has got to have downtime with some unstructured training. This could be a week or a month or longer. Some athletes cross-train in the off-season, while others focus on a much lighter load of activity. Regardless, if there is no downtime, physical and mental fatigue may grow to dangerous levels.
As 2-time Kona World Champion Chris "Macca" McCormack said to us one time, "Racing is like Christmas morning to me. I know I'm going to get a present; I just don't know if it's the one I'm hoping for!" Successful athletes love the process and fitness of training and view racing as "icing on the cake."
How do you view these thoughts for yourself?
Mark Sortino is a Boise, ID based Coach. He is a USA Triathlon Level III and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, FIST Certified Bike Fitter, USAT Certified Race Director and Paralympic Coach for Team USA. From brand new Triathletes and MTB-ers to World Championship qualifiers, Mark enjoys working for and with all types of athletes as they pursue their dreams. Mark is also a US Veteran having served 20 years in the US Navy as a Naval Flight Officer and is a graduate of the US Naval Academy. He can be reached at mark@teamMPI.com.