One of the interesting aspects of endurance sports like swimming, cycling and running is that there is so much to share. Essentially, there are four ways to share.
- Share your experience. When you have knowledge to share, it can really help others.
- Share your experiences. When you train or compete, your experiences tell a story.
- Share your enthusiasm. Sharing love of the sport is a positive way to get feedback.
- Share your challenges. To overcome difficulties is part of the sport. Share it.
You’ll notice there is an inverse to the manner in which we all share. As a new participant in any of these activities, or all three when it comes to triathlon, the things we tend to share first are our challenges and enthusiasm. And understand, it is not uncommon for people to complain during this phase, or lament the results of their most recent workout or race. Still others will hit a plateau during training or races. These are forgiveable shares.
That’s the hallmark of someone pushing themselves to do better. Progress is seldom a straight line proposition. So we verbalize those challenges as we get deeper into the respective sports.
The kid who lives behind me is a high school freshman. His middle school team won the state championship in cross country last year. He’s running six days a week now with the high school cross country team. Yet the first question I asked him was simple: “Are the other runners good guys?” And he answered, “Yes, most of them.”
Because that’s the most important thing in a training environment. How do the people around you respond to your challenges and your enthusiasm? Do they answer questions and share their experience? That’s the sign of a good environment.
Most of the time, this information-sharing occurs through people relating their experiences, not their experience. People usually don’t like to brag about what they know, or make themselves out to be know-it-alls. Instead, they share experiences or tell stories about their efforts in training or racing. These are meant to convey their experience.
Some of these shared stories can be funny. But often they relate a deeper truth. If someone throws up after a high school cross country race because they ate a donut just before the start, that’s a funny story. But it shares important facts about what not to eat when you’re about to compete.
So this sharing process plays an important role in all our development.
As a longtime distance runner, I’m learning that the most important thing I have to share is experience in how to train for races. People who pick up the sport of running or triathlon in their twenties, thirties, forties or beyond often do not have the baseline experience of running track or cross country in high school. As a result, they typically learn one way to train. Quite often that is doing their race pace in training, over and over again. Their methods may make them faster for a while, but ultimately they run into a wall of sorts. Progress ceases, and they wonder why.
The answer lies in aerobic thresholds and learning to train much faster than your desired race pace. It’s a simple rule: To get faster, you absolutely must run faster than race pace in training. Doing race pace over and over again may build endurance, but it has its limits in terms of building speed.
The trick, therefore, is to run paces that both physically and perceptually stretch your baseline race pace.
Of course, this is true in cycling as well. Yet most of us go out and barrel around at 18-20 mph on our own, thinking this will magically transform us into 22-24 mph cyclists. That isn’t going to happen. To ride much faster, you must do intervals at even faster speeds than your desired race pace. That would be 24-26 mph and better yet, even faster. If nothing else, one must get into a group that rides those faster paces and hang on for dear life. You may get dropped at first, but the goal is to stick a little longer every time.
That’s how the pros do it. And when they ride an easy day, they take it really easy. Their riding thus covers an entire range of speeds and aerobic needs. The really long slow rides build aerobic endurance while the speed training raises the heart rate.
It is this knowledge and these methods that coaches are supposed to share with athletes. However, coaches can fall into a trap of prescribing the same types of workouts year after year because the formula works to produce certain types of results. A triathlon coach who gets people over the finish line in an Ironman is a valuable commodity. Yet that same coach might not be helpful to athletes seeking to refine a specific aspect of their triathlon performance.
That’s where event-specific coaching comes in. Or, you can opt to work with other athletes whose experience with ability and experience in those specific events. That type of shared experience is often free. Be prepared to ask when the opportunity presents itself, and most experienced athletes are quite willing to help. It’s an organic feature of endurance sports that your fellow athletes want to help other people in their sports.
This is tricky in a sport like swimming, where advice on proper swimming form can be conflicting on many levels. It is best to confine your form coaching to a set of specific, trusted resources. Ask other athletes who to trust, or hire a coach and stick to what they say. Nothing slows you down faster than trying too many things in your swim form. That’s asking for trouble, not help.
Be prepared to accept that there are some people who refuse to share their experience. But you typically don’t need them in your life. Sharing is something we’re supposed to learn and socialize in preschool. But the competitive nature of some people takes over. Even your close friends can become your worst enemies in training and competition. I advised my children when they reached late elementary school that it is often wise to realize your friends are prone to want to control you or leverage advantage in many facets of life. That’s not being paranoid. It’s a fact. Those same dynamics are played out in politics, religion, business and relationship. Human beings are competitive characters. And they aren’t always honest about their motives.
Which sadly means that some advice is also best not taken without some consideration. People on the starting line of a race can be profound liars. I have been guilty of this manner of competitive lying. Yet I have also shared what I believe the truth to be in competitive experiences. While racing in a five-mile mid-summer race years ago, I knew that I was supremely fit and did not believe anyone in the field could beat me. A mile into that race, a competitor turned to me and asked, “What pace are you going to run today?”
I replied, “Faster than you,” and took off with a surge that left everyone in the dust. In that situation, I was not going to share an advantage of any sort. But why should I? There are some situations in life where winning or beating your rivals is the order of the day. There is nothing at all wrong with that. You can share stories and experiences after the racing’s done. Laugh or cry about the difficulties.
The one thing you are not obligated to share in 99% of most circumstances is your focus. yes, if someone is in need or you feel motivated to help another competitor out somehow, that is a great thing. That’s sharing yourself with someone in need. That is the greatest of all shares, if you think about it. And I’d say the first four types of sharing prepare you for that noble cause when it comes around.