It’s about giving your best in training and on race day, explains Steve Trew
Steve Trew questions whether your race is all about finishing or racing.
That great Australian running coach, Percy Cerutty, once laid out what he considered to be the essential points of running a marathon; run a hundred miles in a week, be able to run 10 miles in 50 minutes, comfortably do a training session of three by five miles at speed. Okay, hands up at the back all you triathletes and distance runners out there who regularly do that in training?
However there are thousands upon thousands of runners who will go out perhaps three or four times a week and run maybe between five to 10 miles each time, putting in a longer run as marathon destiny approaches and they will finish the marathon and be rightly proud that they have done so.
What Cerutty had described was how to win a marathon, but finishing and winning are very different things. These words were written back in the Sixties, way before the advent of the “big city” marathon. But are those words still true? Most certainly. Those 10 miles run at five minute mile pace would bring you in around two hours and eleven minutes if you continued them for full marathon distance, so actually more intense training is required.
But how does this apply to triathlon? Very specifically, I think. There are a lot of athletes out there whose intention is to finish, particularly when racing an Ironman. And there is nothing wrong with that. Finishing a long distance triathlon puts you in less than one per cent of the world’s population. There are significantly fewer who train to win. Certainly, getting out there and putting the miles in day after day should do the trick. But maybe taking a long hard look at how you put the miles in, and how you make up the mixture of endurance, speed and technique will serve you better. How many triathletes easily accept they’ll “just get through the swim”? Why not focus on stroke and technique in training and look for considerable improvement. Maybe it’s just changing the mindset. And that’s without even taking into account the overall most important aspect, mental attitude.
There is absolutely no doubt that triathlon is an endurance sport, but as the level rises from beginner to competent athlete to experienced performer to potential winner, the way we set out our training becomes increasingly important. We will perhaps see a rise in speedwork, a focus on more interval and repetition training and a serious look at technique, especially critical technique under pressure.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to finish a triathlon, while progressing up the distances from sprint to Olympic distance to 70.3 to full Ironman is a great source of fitness, pride and mental strength. But improving on performance and time? We need to look at our own particular training formula. If the definition of insanity is repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome, then we have all become our own worst enemies at some time in our triathlon adventure.
Multi World Triathlon Champion and all-round nice guy Greg Welch talks about one of his favourite training days; there are just two parts to it. Part one: ride between 100 and 120 miles, finish at running track. Part two: put on running shoes and do a session of 10 by one mile at five minute mile pace with one minute recovery only. “Yeah, but it’s Greg Welch, he’s World Champion,” I hear you say. Well, yes… but he wasn’t always World Champion; he became that because of the session, not the other way round. Greg also talks about the guys who would turn up at the track and do the session alongside him: “They’d maybe do the first rep in 4.50, maybe the second and finish in front of me. By the time we got to the seventh or eighth rep I was back on target, nobody ever finished the whole set in front of me.”
That’s not him boasting, that’s reality. The reality of having done year upon year upon year of hard, consistent, structured training; increasing the amount and the intensity again and again and again.
Winning isn’t necessarily coming first in your age group, first in that particular race. Winning is getting the absolute best out of yourself by putting in appropriate training consistently. Racing or finishing, your choice, every time.