As a triathlon coach I have been reviewing nearly 100 athlete workouts week in and week out. Recently I sent a note out to our athletes with the subject of: "What do I do different?" Throughout my various athletic careers I've seen a few recurring traits in successful endurance athletes. Here is my attempt to highlight a few of the most important.
#1 Tuning into your body. All high-level athletes are tuned into their bodies to an incredible degree. I have learned to gauge my overall fatigue, tiredness, soreness, etc and modify or skip workouts based on this feedback. When you race long races like IMs it is absolutely essential to listen to what your body is telling you about pacing and nutrition.
In practice what this means is that I probably skipped workouts more frequently than some of you. This is probably not the advice you expect from your coach, but there are definitely times when you will progress more fitness-wise by skipping or cutting back a scheduled workout. Consistency is still essential, but as long as it doesn't become routine, don't feel it is 100% necessary to do absolutely every workout as written. Just give us good feedback as to why you might have to miss a workout because if you are getting run down it will change how we write workouts as opposed to: the kids were sick and I just didn't have the time to do a workout. The flip side to this is if I am feeling great during a workout I may tack on a few extra intervals or go a couple more miles.
#2 Going really hard and really easy. Quick story here. My freshman year at Augustana we had an Ethiopian runner named Ambo Bati who won multiple national championships. After one big invitational the two of us went on a cooldown toghether. I had a poor race in my mind and took off a bit hard on the cooldown. Within a few minutes Ambo said the pace was too hard and could we slow down?! On the other hand, when we ran intervals he would absolutely destroy me.
Lesson here is that most athletes spend too much time in that middle no-man's land of not really hard, but definitely not easy. As coaches, we counteract this in-part by specifying heart rate and power zones to insure you are at the right intensity. Almost everyone's focus in the last few weeks and coming weeks is hard bike intervals. The new LT intervals are slightly easier than the VO2, but both if they are done right are gut-wrenchingly difficult (LT not so much at first, but by the end of the interval for sure). The flip side is that when you have easy days or easy recoveries bet. sets to make sure they are very easy.
#3 Relentless focus on your weak event. Almost no one comes into this sport an equally good swimmer, biker and runner. For me I had swam and ran competitively for years. In order to meet my goals as a triathlete I had to focus on improvig my riding year after year. I scaled my swimming and running way back as I made tiny incremental gains in my cycling. Bringing my cycling up to the level of my running and swimming was a 5 year process.
#4 The last major difference that I can see is that ever since I can remember I have consistently sought out people who are faster than myself to train with. This has been invaluable to me. I can write the best workouts in the world, but you will never be able to push yourself as hard as doing a group workout. I just got dropped hardcore in last night's roadie group ride and that motivates, rather than discourages me. Your ego/self-image may take a hit, but it is worth it in the long run.
My challenge to you on this front is to identify some different group workouts that you can incorporate into your training. Right now I see too many of you doing the majority -or all- of your workouts alone. Here in B-N we have great group options: Tues night time trials or track workouts. Wed. when the weather gets nice we'll have open water swims. The masters swim team workouts are Mon/Wed. There are various other group rides to choose from.
Adding workouts with people who are faster than you is one of the quickest ways to improve.